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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010

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New in Town?

Or even if you're not, the Newcomers Club puts out the welcome mat for Silver City.

 

Story and Photos by Richard Mahler

 

 



Don't let the name fool you. Membership is not limited to recent arrivals.

Newcomers' club
Newcomers Club leaders (from left) Sharye Hardesty, Carol Brooks and Karen Boyer. (Photo by Richard Mahler)

"Goodness," declares Karen Boyer, the group's secretary-treasurer, "the Silver City Newcomers Club has people in it who were founders when the group started nearly a half-century ago." Boyer, whose outgoing personality seems typical of club members, joined seven years ago after relocating from Colorado. A friend escorted her to one of the group's monthly luncheons — and Boyer has been attending ever since.

"Some people think the name is confusing and that maybe we should change it," concedes Sharye Hardesty, a past Newcomers Club president and long-time member who moved in 2001 to Silver City, a sprawling town where she and her husband didn't know a soul. "But calling ourselves The Latecomers or The Oldtimers doesn't seem right either," she chuckles, noting that about 10 or 12 brand-new residents join the group each year. "So we'll probably stick with the name we already have." (The Silver City group is not affiliated with the nationwide Newcomers Club, which has chapters in many cities and limits membership to specified lengths of residence.)

According to current president Carol Brooks, the Silver City group continues its primary function of helping the freshly arrived (and perhaps slightly bewildered) to feel welcomed and well informed: "If we see new people at a meeting, we make a point of talking to them. A new person usually stands up and tells the group where he or she is from and something about themselves."

And that's when the intensive networking begins. Connections are made, stories are swapped, and word-of-mouth spreads the sort of nitty-gritty details about the community that otherwise are impossible for a fresh-faced arrival to obtain.

According to this trio of experts, interviewed recently at the Silver City Public Library, newcomers typically ask questions ranging from where to get specific types of medical care to whom to hire for household maintenance or repair work. Queries about shopping, pet care, car registration and drivers' licenses also are common, along with questions about recreation opportunities, social activities, auto repair and restaurants.

"I moved here from Minnesota," recalls Brooks, "after several trips my husband and I made to visit a cousin in Tyrone. We really liked the area and decided to move. After we got here, my cousin decided that I needed to be really involved [in the community] and she got me into way too many things, including a luncheon at Newcomers. I really enjoyed the people I met there and they made me feel so welcome."

Boyer recounts a similar tale: "We first came to Silver City in an RV that we parked at the KOA campground. After we decided to move permanently and were looking for a house, Sally Goss took me to a meeting. For me it was — and still is — a good way to learn from people who have been here longer than I have."

Hardesty's story also echoes that of many. Prompted by a love for the Southwest and publications about retirement destinations that sang the praises of Silver City, she and her husband vacationed in the area first — "and just kept coming back" — before relocating from New Orleans in 2001. "I learned about this group from a brochure in a Realtor's office," she recalls. "I thought it might be a good way for my mother, who was moving in with us, to meet new people. But it turned out that I did more socializing than she did. The group is so nice that I keep going even though I'm not a newcomer any more."



Since relocating myself in March 2007, I'd heard remarks like these from many of the 80 members of the Newcomers Club. But a question continued to nag me: Aren't other Grant County outfits providing similar services?

My first thought was that Newcomers might duplicate the services of Welcome Wagon, that legion of generous neighbors who brought insider tips and discount business coupons directly to my mom whenever our family relocated during the 1950s and 1960s. A smiling hostess bearing a wicker basket of goodies would appear at our doorstep, happy to provide all the details about our new hometown.

"The Welcome Wagon doesn't exist any more," Hardesty revealed — at least not in the form I remembered it. "Privacy issues have really made it difficult" to learn who is brand-new to a community. "The electric company and phone company won't give out that information. Coupons for stores and resource information would be nice for the new people, but we haven't found the mechanism for providing that."

A check of the Welcome Wagon website confirms this unfortunate turn of events. "[Our] door-to-door neighborly visits are a thing of the past," the company's home page announces. "[But] Welcome Wagon is still committed to connecting with new homebuyers through their mailboxes and the Internet." Welcome Wagon, which merged in 1998 with Getting to Know You, its chief competitor, still gleans property-transfer information from legal records and sends business-oriented material to those who have bought new homes. But it's a safe bet that much of that material, like similar mailings generated through landline installations and postcard surveys, ends up in a trashcan or spam filter.

"About the only place you can get [newcomer] information is through county records," notes Boyer, who works in real estate. "But you cannot give that out to a group and you can only collect it for one address at a time. Unlike some places, that kind of information is not published in the newspaper here."

So much for Welcome Wagon, which seems in its new iteration seems to concentrate these days on more urban and affluent regions than southwestern New Mexico.

And the Gila Regional Medical Center Foundation several years ago suspended the ongoing "newcomers breakfasts" it once sponsored at the hospital. Resurrection of the tradition, which briefed new arrivals on many community services, is reportedly on the foundation's agenda, but no target date for a new round of breakfasts has been announced.

But what about the Silver City Woman's Club? My research for an article published last year in Desert Exposure suggests that this venerable organization, also dominated by civic-minded women who like to mix socializing with doing good deeds, has a parallel mission.

"There is a great over lap in membership," allows Brooks, "and I'm a past president of the Woman's Club. Many of us are involved in both groups, and the Newcomers Club actually meets in the Woman's Club building three or four times each year. [Other meeting venues include Wrangler's Restaurant and the Elks Club.] It's a good relationship between the two; there's an open door."



A distinguishing characteristic of Newcomers, however, may be its monthly (except summer) luncheon program. Acting on suggestions from members and board officers, the club presents nine speakers a year whose topics are calibrated to interest recent arrivals and long-time residents alike. For example, Pink Store co-owner Yvonne Romero is scheduled to give an update on the Mexican border town of Palomas during the Newcomers' Sept. 16 meeting at the Woman's Club.

 



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